Basic technique

-- Last Updated: Jul-21-12 3:52 PM EST --

Finally got a kayak. I have been out a few times. I need a bit of help. Couple of questions:

1. Say i want to turn to the left with a sweep stroke. Pressure with left knee to lean right, sweep on right and boat goes left, correct/ By pressure I mean lift knee/thigh against brace to initiate the lean to the right.

2. When going straight as i stroke on the right do i press with my right foot or left. They both seem to work although i feel a bit out of synch if i press leg opposite stroke. I am getting torso rotation.

3. Back band/posture. My kayak has a IR backband with ratchet adjustment. If I tighten it up I am leaning a bit forward of perpendicular to the hull. Not at all comfortable. Could this be due to a few extra pounds around the abs and poor core conditioning? If i loosen the band I feel like I might be leaning a bit back from perpendicular . i have been advised tis is poor technique. Best way to describe is that my back just below rib cage is lightly touching the rear combing.
It feels good but how does one know if they are leaning back too much?

4. Lastly: foot rests. If i have my legs fairly straight with a slight bend not bad initially. After a bit my calves get achey. If i have the rests adjusted for more knee bend i find my heels are turned inward, kind of like a duck walk. Is this bad? Either position of the rests and after about 30 minutes my feet get a bit numb. Normal?

I love the kayaking just having some comfort issues.


btw: I have been told dont waste time learning to roll, just know self rescue. I think roll is good to know save alot of time and effort in event of capsize. Have also been told unlikely to capsize with good brace and skirt. thoughts? can roll be "self taught ' with help of video such as " this is the Roll"


– Last Updated: Jul-21-12 7:27 PM EST –

1. Experiment with leaning into and away from your direction of turn when you do your sweep turn. You are correct that many sea kayaks will carve a turn nicely with a lean to the outside of a turn, but you can also lean into a turn and sometimes this works better or feels more comfortable, especially in whitewater or crossover kayaks with a fairly blunt "bottle nose" and a lot of rocker. The most effective parts of your sweep stroke are the beginning, when the blade is planted close to the hull, and the last few inches of the stroke, as the blade is drawn in toward the hull.

You might want to emphasize that last "stern draw" portion of your sweep stroke and your torso rotation by actually following the stroke with your head and watching as the blade is drawn in toward the hull. Be careful to take the blade out of the water before it hits the side of your boat though. It is quite possible to trip over the paddle blade and go over, especially with an offside lean.

After the stroke becomes muscle memory, you probably won't want to watch your blade anymore but point your head in the direction of the turn, since the boat almost always wants to go in the direction the head is pointed towards.

2. Pressing with your foot against the peg does add a little oomph to your foreword stroke. I have known good paddlers press with the foot onside the stroke and others press with the offside foot. Do whatever feels best.

3. Try to sit upright without a lot of forward lean or slouching back. This posture will allow you the maximal amount of torso rotation. You want a little arch (lumbar lordosis) in your lower back.

A lot of good paddlers will lean forward with the trunk a bit as they plant the blade on their forward stroke and then use a pelvic thrust to allow their hips to propel the boat forward as the trunk comes back to an upright position.

4. I usually have my feet pointed outwards a bit with my heels inboard of my toes, so if this is poor technique, we share it.

Lastly, a roll is a self-rescue. It is far and away the best self rescue technique since it gets you up immediately, in the boat, and dry. There are a lot of good kayakers who don't have a reliable roll, but I have found that those folks who advise others that learning to roll is a waste of time are typically those paddlers who cannot roll.

Free learning
Click on british flag for english

replay as often as it takes to gain understanding.

In my opinion - a must see for newcomers.

Foot pegs play a big role in paddling properly

I have had enough of this “don’t bother with the roll crap”!

Rolling IS a fundamental skill. It’s not a party trick, it’s not to get the girls. it’s the shortest route to correcting your mistake that led to you capsizing. If you’re a lilydipping pond paddler perhaps the roll isn’t necessary but honestly, people, if you paddle open water, it should be your primary corrective stroke after the failed brace!

my 2¢
1. To turn left: There’s more than one way to skin a cat. But let’s talk your way. I’m assuming you’re in a sea kayak. For WW it works differently. Edge right. To do that, drop your right buttocks, and raise your left thigh. Edging shortens the waterline making your boat easier to turn. Sweep from bow to 3 o’clock. A bow rudder on the left can make it a tighter turn.

2. When going straight, press through the foot on that side that you’re paddling on. If the stroke is on the right, push on the right. If the stroke is on the left, push on the left. You’re transferring the stroke to the boat.

3. Back band/posture. Sounds like you have it too tight. I would say 1) you should be comfortable. If you’re not, something has to go. 2) The goal is to sit up straight. But that should come from your posture, not the backband. The backband is there 1) to remind you, and 2) for when you NEED contact/when you want to be one with your boat. That brings us to your foot pegs.

4. Foot pegs. Again, you want to be comfortable, but you need contact when you want it. I think it sounds like you have it right: More or less straight so your legs will be relaxed, but when you want contact, you put the balls of your feet on the foot pegs, and “stand on your tippy toes”. You can’t do that with straight legs, so you will bend your knees and sit with your knees “akimbo” a bit. Pushing with your toes is what will also lock your butt in your backband.

Sometimes you have to get used to things. I don’t want you to paddle uncomfortably, because maybe something really is wrong, but I had sciatica for about a month, then it just magically went away and (7 years later) has never returned. Sitting up straight – as tall as you can – really helps. It’s counterintuitive, but it helps your balance too.

Re a DVD, I did not like “The Kayak Roll”. It didn’t work for me. I found EJ’s “Bracing and Rolling” to be far more helpful. But I agree with your friend, unless your WW kayaking, a roll is icing on the cake.

I’ll Add This
Heels in and toes out is normal for me. I like to keep enough bend in the knees to maintain contact with the thigh braces.

My comfort trick is to take an old, compressed foam block and tuck it under my calves / ankles. Move the thing forward and back as needed. The longer the trip the happier I am that I brought it along.

A few comments

– Last Updated: Jul-22-12 8:19 AM EST –

1) Learn to roll. It'll help all of your other paddling skills even if that is a rough go itself. Lessons easier - some can learn to roll without an outside eye but probably not most. If you do try to start yourself, stop and find help if you seem to hit a wall. That usually means you are acquiring bad habits that will be a bear to break if you keep going the same way.

I don't know who said that idiotic thing about a capsize, especially the skirt part. I can't imagine any form of physics where a skirt has diddly to do with stopping you from capsizing unless you are in big dumping waves, and in that case your ONLY likely self-rescue will be a roll. No other means is going to work.

2) Try to get that edge by shifting your butt into the bilge, keeping lower body more relaxed. As to the calf thing, if you release the leg you aren't using to pump it will give it a chance to relax and stop some of the pain. You may not be relaxing. Also bulkhead blocks (solid shaped pieces of minicell that match the shape of the boat) may be a plan for you over footpegs. More freedom of movement for your feet. You can use the footpegs to help hold them in.

3) You are trying to in some minor fashion push the outside edge of the boat around the turn with the foot pedaling. Think of it that way and the sides work out OK.

4) Backband and posture - you need to be pretty erect to even get decent rotation. Try it sitting on the ground, out of the boat, and you'll see that leaning back kills it. Best I can say is that getting a decent core is good for you, and if you lack that now it will take some attention and a bit of discomfort to get there. But it's good for you....